Athletes of the Spirit:
An Exploration of Disability
through Art and Writing
30" x 22" $2,100.00
Bruce Curtis, Age 45
Berkeley, California USA
When Bruce moved his arms and hands
to the music at a dance club, Ashkenaz,
he met a warm and heartfelt welcome
from the other dancers. With each public
exhibition, Bruce has transformed his fear
of dancing in public. This has led to a
continual experimentation with his own
body's unique movement with other
I met with Bruce, Lori and Ray on the dance
floor. They were gracious with their time, spontaneously moving as I photographed them in action. The painting,
Trust, was inspired by their dance and the photos that followed. As I intently watched them, I was convinced that all of
us can dance. It doesn't matter how we perceive or move to a given beat. What's important is that we are expressing
ourselves without inhibition.
Contact improvisation is a form of dance during which people support each other physically and mold themselves
to each other in a sculptural way while continually moving to their own internal music. In the height of kinetic energy, there
is little distinction between Bruce in his wheelchair , the wheelchair itself, and Lori and Ray. The wheelchair is an integral
part of the dance, allowing for timeless graceful movements. The chair is a pivotal point from which Bruce's upper body
extends and supports the weight of others. It allows a sculptural type of dance to evolve; at any moment the dance can
turn into a slowly moving sculpture and then, just as suddenly, evoke the magic of a feather blowing through a quick wind.
Lori and Ray trust Bruce's strength, quickness, and agility. They can physically lean on him without doubting his stable
support. I wanted to capture their fleeting movement, showing blurred images bouncing through light, about to leap off
the painting onto the floor where we now stand.
Bruce's Contact Improvisation: A Dance of Equality
I currently work at the World Institute on Disability (WID), managing several projects with Russians who have disabilities.
Working with the Russian Society of the Disabled, I provide technical assistance in the form of management, leadership development, media and training. As well, I am involved in influencing U.S. foreign policy to include people with disabilities
in the U.S. International Development programs. In addition, I create and promote dance that brings together people
with and without disabilities.
At the age of 17, I broke my neck while driving, which resulted in paralysis affecting my body from the chest down. While
on a March for Peace in Central America, I learned about contact improvisation and discovered through it that people
with and without disabilities could dance together equally. Contact Improvisation allows someone disabled to become so
engaged in the contact and balance with another dancer, that the sensation supersedes the superficial image. Even though
I have limited voluntary movement throughout my body, I can create coordinated movement, using the sensation in my
body to the other dancer's movement. As well, each person in responsible for his or her own safety in the dance and
trusts that the other will always be in the present moment, listening.
For me, it's important to create motion and dance that naturally emerges from a disabled person's body. I encourage
people with disabilities to find their own personal expressions of movement from their own bodies rather than imitating
dance styles like ballet or ballroom dancing and movements that come from non-disabled bodies. When persons with
disabilities try to perform in contemporary styles typically performed by the non-disabled, audiences judge them as making
a nice effort. However, when persons with disabilities create dances which present the authentic movement of their own
bodies they will find that the audience will appreciate them as true artists.
At 45, I look back to my involvement with the Disability Rights Movement of the early 1970s and recognize the growth of consciousness since then. At that time I was an involved activist. Now I feel the importance of presenting my dance work
as both a political message and an art form. In today's information overloaded society, the public has less time and is
continually less open to receiving educational information about people with disabilities. Lectures and articles are not likely
to affect the public's stereotypes; they elicit a less than enthusiastic or even an uninterested response. However, when I
show people, from any culture, positive images of people with disabilities actively involved in society, the ability of the non-disabled to imagine people with disabilities is positively expanded. The arts in general is a way to involve the heart and change the public's stereotypes of people with disabilities.
The Balinese make no distinction between life and art. Art is connected to the meaning of human life rather than just being
a leisure activity. Through dance, I want to redefine society's attitude toward people with disabilities. Beauty and Ugliness
are not inseparable in anyone, so they should neither be exalted nor repudiated in dance.